Things I like, back to school edition

A couple nights ago, because he agreed to marry me and will therefore be victim of my unanticipated proclamations forever and ever - get used to it buddy, although I’m sure you probably are already - J received news that I was “feeling a little unmotivated, but for no good reason,” announced, by the way, as I settled into bed with a murder mystery around 8:45 pm.

I mean, really. No good reason. We live in a new house, the kids are happily enrolled and thriving in a new school and life is decidedly easier than it was in years past. Due to these specific changes, yes, but more importantly, due to a very distinct feeling of settling in that’s been absent from our lives until now. How are we going to set up our new living room? No idea! But we are going to set that baby up and then hang out there for years and years to come.

No good reason. Except, as I contemplated the feeling once again this morning, I realized that there is a very good reason, one that will dissipate as September rolls on. The transition. The yearly ritual, from the whimsy of summer to the rigidity of a new academic year, marked by its telltale signs: shoes lined up next to backpacks; the removal of uneaten items from lunchboxes at day’s end (the carrots, you guys, come on!); the perusal of math homework and PTA announcements and ensuring the laundry is done in a timely manner because you can’t just put your bathing suit on and assume it’ll serve as acceptable daywear.

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It’s a transition I like, I might add. All that newness, all those blank notebooks. But it had also been a very good summer, heady and unplanned in all the best ways. We saw seals in Cape Cod and told ghost stories in Cape May. We celebrated family and love and life and were occasionally very, exceedingly hot, attempting sleep above the covers and nearly losing our minds before I promptly ordered some window air conditioning units that I “didn’t think we’d need” this year. Which, it turned out, was incorrect. Just incredibly incorrect.

That, I think, was the feeling I was having the other night, tough to capture and name. Just a transition. Excitement for the new year but already missing those seasonal freedoms, like staying and waking up later. Meeting by the pool with a cold beer.

The cure, as mentioned above, is time, naturally. But also looking inward and forward, indulging in the cultural and practical items I’ve been enjoying as of late, as well as planning for future events that fit the coming season.

(I feel, as I type these words, that someone out there probably wants to point out that pumpkin beer is coming, in a move half-genuine, half meant-to-enrage-me, so fine, go ahead).

Anyway. Long intro. Happy beginning of the school year, all. Here are few things I’m excited about:

  • The other night I got to have dinner with some of my extended family without my children, a rare treat, allowing me to fully engage in the discussions at hand. At one point during the evening, I was sitting across from my cousin Sam, who is in his late twenties, and somehow (Sam, how?) we started talking about folk singer-songwriter John Prine, and how much we both loved him, which was amusing as - not to generalize here - but you wouldn’t have pegged us two as the John Prine fans at the table, considering there were older more experienced people there. Sam, to my utter delight, started listing lyrics and talking about themes, and I shared with him that the reason I love John Prine so much was that when I was doing an internship on an organic farm as an impressionable 18-year-old during my senior year of high school, the people working there told me I just had to listen to him as we were sitting in the hot fields squashing bugs with our fingers, and I did, a memory I cherish because it’s just the right amount of ridiculous. I told Sam and the other family members, innocent bystanders to our rapid-fire conversation, that they needed to check out the live version of the song “Angel of Montgomery” with Bonnie Raitt, which you can listen to here. It is not a happy song. But god, I love it so much, and am most certainly on the cusp of a personal folk music revival. Good luck, kids.

  • Another topic that night was how my Aunt Betsey and Uncle Mark are watching the British version of “The Office,” which, those of you who know me or have read this blog, know is my all-time favorite. This got me all pumped up as I realized, giddily, that they were going to get to watch Season One, Episode Four, for the very first time in their lives. And that I was going to have to watch it again for approximately the hundreth time, because there is nothing better.

  • The idea of throwing a midterms viewing party on November 6, which could be, depending on your political views, a really fun night, or a really awful one. I’m willing to take the risk. Who’s in?

  • A few notable books, as I finally regained the capability this summer to get through several paragraphs in a row without passing out cold or turning to binge-worthy television programs instead. I finished “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” by Jesmyn Ward, a difficult, incredibly important and haunting read, as well as “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson, recommended by my always trustworthy mother, who told me it was so good, so different and so surprising. Correct, Mom. I’m still working on Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened,” mostly because I can only get through three or four words at a time in the Russia chapter before I’m like, “YUP AND THEN THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED, WAY TO NAIL THE TITLE HILLARY!” (I miss you).

  • I discovered a new podcast this summer called “Reply All,” which is about the internet, at least generally speaking, and which sounds like exactly the type of thing I would NOT be into, as we all know I’m not great at the managing online maneuvers. Or computers at all. Or even, let’s get real, my alarm clock. I stumbled onto an episode, however, and cannot get enough. It’s about how the internet intersects with culture, covering everything from everyday tech glitches to politics. I love the hosts and the way each episode cracks open both seeming non-issues and big questions, in totally fascinating ways, and with unexpected outcomes.

  • Ishmael by Rising Tide Brewing, which I got to have in Maine this August. Perfect by the pool or on a cozy fall evening. Not a pumpkin beer. Calls to mind a favorite work of American fiction, due a re-reading. Five stars.

YOLO (or: a return to my philosophical roots)

When I was in college, I was an English major, philosophy minor. First of all, I know, way to make a splash in the job market, right? My business major friends thought this course of study was amusing, too. 

Secondly, yes, I realize academia isn't the best way to start a post on a blog that you all have come to view as, um, not super academic. 

I promise, it won't be. But having cast aside my course books year ago - Aristotle and Plato, Kant and Hegel - I've been straining to remember their most compelling theories. Aristotle was all about being moderate, right? Kant was into theoretical maxims (which, full diclosure, I had to look up right now because I'd forgotten, and immediately got anxious trying to wrap my head about the Wikipedia synopsis of his work). 

Then there is Nietzche, his quest to overcome life's meaninglessness; his concept of an "Ubermensch," or superman. None of which I'll ever forget because I studided Nietzsche for an entire semester during a solemn class focused fully on his work. Our exam took place in our professor's office, lit solely by dim desk lamp, and consisted of him asking us each questions about Nietzche's philosophy while our classmates waited, worried, in the hallway. And worried was the correct way to feel, because when your life consists of taking three hour long naps whenever you feel like it and occasionally dancing on the bar at this place Beckett's we went to every Thursday night, and this guy is expecting you to chat casually about nihilism and get graded on that, well then, yeah, that's an intimidating situation.  

The reason I'm telling (possibly boring) you with these details of my college days, is that I've been thinking about life lately in ways that I can only define as philosophical. Believe me, I realize this is amusing coming from someone who spoke out loud to herself in the car this morning about the need to attain a properly fitting bra, for the love of god, you are 40-years-old. But "philosophical" is the only way I can explain it. 

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Some of this is most certainly because of age. People say you start caring more about the right things as you get older, and I'd like to add my solid agreement to that oft-spoken refrain.

Some of it is because of recent life events, most notably my father dying, and my slowly but surely emerging from consistent moments of real grief, to consitent moments of real content, happy memories being untangled from unhappy feelings, and the ability to imagine, or feel (I don't really know which) his presence in a way that is useful. For instance, when I drove through a freak Connecticut storm which apparently resulted in TWO tornados the other day, and asked my dad WHAT THE HELL WAS HAPPENING while I drove, white-knuckled, down the Merritt Parkway. It wasn't so much that I was envisioning his spirit intervening. More that I was relievd to share my exclamations of utter fear with someone I knew so well during an experience that, otherwise, I would have had to stumble through all alone. This is the kind of funny-now-that-it's-over, near-death-but-not-really-experience he would have enjoyed hearing about when he was alive.  Except for the part where he would have inevitably become very anxious about my almost driving straight through a tornado. 

This welcome change isn't because of anything I did right or wrong; just time, I think, and good company.

Some of my recent pensiveness is because I've watched friends go through incredibly difficult things. And on a much less personal note, it's because I've watched people I don't know go through incredily difficult things on the national news. I think that asking yourself why life delivers such tragedy, the correct responses are 1) to fix the fixable problems to the best of your ability and 2) to live your life with integrity. 

Integrity is what I'm really talking about here. Doing the little and big things right. It's not what one typically thinks about when yelling, carefree and fearless, about the brevity and meaning, of this dazzling, sweet life: "You only live once!!! I'm going to do go home and get all my chores done with so much goddamn integrity." 

And yet, due to all the reasons listed above, and perhaps most of all, due to our newfound feeling of finally settling here in Connecticut - making our home comfortable, getting our routines organized and planning for the future responsibly, and for fun - integrity seems like the most important quality to achieve, throughout every hour of the day. 

I've always been able to imagine living  a contemplative, purposeful life. Back in the days I was part of a young, captive audience in my Modern Philosophy class at B.U., where our charming, excitable professor with his white, unruly hair would - I swear - get so pumped about Kant that he'd hop up and click his heels together in middair, for instance. 

And I'm not saying I've been a moral washout, or that I haven't completed tasks carefully in my time. What I'm saying, instead, is that recently, and for the first time ever, I've been better able to give equal weight to the many responsibilities so many of us struggle with on a daily basis; to see all the parts of my complicated schedule - constantly changing gears between parenthood and writing and ensuring the dog doesn't see that chipmunk across the street from our house and throw herself in front of a moving vehicle - as the necessary, interlocking pieces that yield success in the passing weeks. 

While many of these tasks are annoying (going to the DMV to get a sticker on my license to prove I moved to a new town so I can register my children at their new school, despite the fact that I will also be bringing proof of home purchase and several utility bills, comes to mind) I feel much more patience to do them. Register for school to leave time for other important work. Carefully plan the kids' schedule for when I'm out of town later this week so that I can attend a long-awaited reunion with best friends from childhood. Get the passenger-side mirror fixed on the car, because it keeps falling off and hanging by a wire, and while I feel no real urgency regarding this issue, J says it's going to snap off completely someday and hit another car, and we'll get sued. 

Put a load of school clothes in the laundry in so that we can sit, as we did Sunday night, on the front step, watching neighbors go by, eating cherries and some truly awful concoction that Gabriel had made from Hershey's kisses and Lemonheads. Nora asked how I knew everybody and I explained that I didn't; saying hi to the passing walkers and cyclists was simply a nice thing to do. 

I spent a lot of time as a new parent worrying about when I'd have time to do the most important things (a topic I've written and talked about dozens, probably hundreds of times before, so thank you for still being my friend). I got so caught up in it.  I've often lamented the fact that Nora was such an easy baby, I could have written a book or lauched a company during my maternity leave with her. But I didn't do that because I was so worried about the fact that she didn't like to nap in her crib, and how would she ever nap at daycare? And one million other nagging concerns about my identity and career plan now that this baby was so dependent on me. 

Now, only now, because of time and experiences and all the other lessons tied up in the works of great philosophical minds and classic rock and roll lyrics, do I see that that time was spent in the only way I could possibly spend it. Worrying with new friends who'd become lifelong friends; spinning anxieties I'd someday write about, and continue to write about, again and again, possibly too much. I know. I'm sorry. 

Before I go off the deep end and have to actually email some of my old professors to talk this through, which would surprise and probably not delight them, I'll, instead, share a moment I witnessed on the drive home from drop-offs this morning: two moms with strollers in their exercise gear, walking quickly, lost in conversation. I saw them and thought about it again. Integrity. Then I heard the thunk of the passenger-side mirror coming unhinged again. 

I came home and, before sitting down to my computer, walked to our newly-designated junk drawer, retrieved the super glue, went back outside and cemented the mirror to its base, carefully counting to sixty seconds to ensure it held. 

Now listen, J, and probably lots of other people who are judging me, I realize that this isn't the correct way to fix a car. Yet in that moment I felt an intense pull to get something done. In order to get the more important things done. And in order to drive confidently down the streets of our new neighborbood with less fear that I'm going to hit other cars or pedestrians with minivan parts. Saving energy wasted on that small concern for waving hi to strangers. Summoning spirits during thunderstorms. You only live once. 

The art of moving and a seriously distinct lack of zen

Next week, barring any major catastrophes or nervous breakdowns, both of which are possibilities, we will be moving from the house we moved into almost exactly ten years ago in New Haven, to our new house in Hamden, just one town away. 

There are the emotional things about moving, even when it's not very far, which I'll probably write about more in the coming weeks and some of which I'll probably share, teary-eyed, with our Morris Cove neighbors over drinks as we prepare for this next chapter.

Then there are the mechanics of it. The stuff that make moving one of the most stressful life events, at least according to the experts. And lately, I've been talking about those parts of the move with a lot of people. With everybody. Even strangers. Constantly. I get it. It's annoying. 

The reason - and those of you who have moved understand this - is that it's all consuming. It's so exciting, yes, to be moving to a roomier house, into a school system and schedule that will make our life a lot simpler, and closer to J's new job which is pretty far away from where we live now. 

But this part of it. The packing/managing-of-home-improvement-projects/losing-sleep-over-details part of it, I could do without. We're in a nice position, because we are getting our house ready to sell as we're moving into the new place. Nice, because this allows us time to move in slowly, carrying cratefuls of clothes and random small appliances over a carful at a time instead of having to pack everything we own carefully into boxes at a rapid pace, although we have been doing some of that, too. 

Packing everything carefully into boxes, by the way, is not a strength of mine. The other day I told J I wasn't feeling helpful enough. What could I pack? Dishes? Books? He gently answered, "Why don't you let me do it?"

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My jobs have fallen more into the management category. Ensuring we got our trim painted and sections of wall patched in our old house, and being the point person for home improvement projects on our new one. It sounds fine, typing it out in nice organized sentences like this, but the truth is I've driven myself crazy in recent weeks consdering all the details, budgeting and trying to answer tough questions that are not even remotely tough in the grand scheme of things, and then getting mad at myself for engaging in such superficial stress, causing a constant, internal, somewhat abusive self-directed rant: "Why won't the light in the basement stairway turn on? Should we pay someone to fix it? Could we fix it? What are you even doing with your life???"

In some ways this move is much cushier than the one we experienced all those years ago, packing everything we owned in North Carolina into U-Hauls by ourselves, and driving it hundreds of miles away. We are hiring a moving company to take the reins this go round, and if we leave some stuff behind, no problem; there will be plenty of time to retreive our belongings before we turn the keys over to someone else. 

It's more complicated, too. Now we've got kids with busy schedules, and at least slightly higher expectations, which prompted us to do a few things - mainly painting - at our new house before moving in, knowing that once we got settled, we were far less likely to take action. So there's simply more to keep track of this time around. 

I've been trying to identify what makes this process so anxiety-producing. Why I can't just wake up, make a list of to-do items and get it done? Why do I feel like I'm having a low-level heart attack for hours at a time? 

I think there are a few factors. One is that people are constantly asking us about the move, and it's kind of like when people ask how things are going at the end of pregnancy. No matter how much you're dying to talk about it, you want the answer to be, "It's going great, in fact it's DONE NOW!" But it seems like that will never be the answer and you'll live in this uncertain state forever. I don't mind when people ask me about it, don't get me wrong, because remember, I love to talk about it constantly. I just wish my my responses contained less existential angst. 

Another factor is that there are so many moving parts. Projects you have to do, or that maybe you've hired someone to do. Movers to schedule and pay and boxes to pack. Decisions to make about furniture and paint colors. Again, all this seemingly superficial stuff. But it's tiring nonetheless. And then you think you're done, and you're so not done because, wait, how am I supposed to know what pattern I want those tiles in?!? UGGGGGGH. Remember when I used to stress myself out about politics and career goals? And getting enough exercise or at least some exercise or at least having only one Reese's peanut butter egg in a sitting post-Easter, because face it, they DO NOT make you feel better.  

I guess it's all of it. It's the emotion tied to the logistics tied to the massive sea change of moving just nine miles away. In one moment I'm realizing I have no idea where to go to the grocery store in this new neighborhood and in the next I'm getting super emotional during my daughter's school musical, not only because she's doing a great job, but because she's not going to go to this school anymore, a school she's gone to since she was just three-years-old. It's getting a new bed and letting go of the one I bought in my early twenties, just beginning to realize what I wanted out of life, and a bed was a good place to start. It's piling toys into bins and hauling bins to the car, and trying to make this next step go just right because you've waited for what's next for all these years. 

It's all of that. And it's funny, because I keep telling the kids that change is hard, and it's ok for them to sad about moving on to a new school, and having their own rooms. But everyone seems to have worked it out in their own, healthy ways. I think that my clenched-chest and middle-of-the-night wakeups might be my way of dealing with all this change, because the truth is, moving on is really difficult for me

Thankfully I tend to find healing powers in identifying the problem.

It's ok. Buying grout is unfamiliar territory, and so is hoping the new neighbors like our family. Slowly but surely, though, we'll make our way. 

Regarding all the feelings of failure

This year I have readopted a title I'm very familiar with: freelance writer. I've done this before a few times in my life - not had another job while solely freelancing - and while it is "interesting" and a super flexible way to work (and it must be noted, something I am luckily able to do because of my spouse's steady job with benefits) I dislike a number of the specifics that accompany this career choice.

For one thing, even though I have better connections and am at least a little better established at this point in my life, I constantly have to think about finding new work, about how much it'll pay and if it's worth it. I also have to think about balancing my more creative work, which often requires many hours of writing and then waiting anxiously to get something placed, with my more lucrative work (things like copywriting for marketing departments at businesses and non-profits), which is guaranteed pay but takes time away from writing things I'm more excited about; things that may or may not eventually see the light of day in an actual publication. 

This is where I'm going to pause and say two quick things. One, I am an incredibly fortunate person, so please feel free to find this complaining obnoxious, even though I promise I'm simply trying to illuminate feelings and not elicit pity. Two, if you do find it super annoying, but are, say, someone who works at a newspaper, magazine or website and is looking for a pretty funny, always-caffeinated staff writer who will totally gossip with you in addition to doing - oh just for instance - a regular, relatable column about all the amusing moments in her life, then, yes, I'm available for interviews. 

Anyway, back to my unwarranted list of grievances. Another thing that's difficult for me about the writing life is that it can be a solitary affair. Happily, I do some journalism that requires interviews, and interviewing people about their passions is one of my favorite things. Also, because of the flexibility involved, I get to have coffee and lunch dates with friends, and I often work in public places. This is important for me because I'm an extroverted person and without the stimulus of human connection, I wither. Even a quick fix - a phone call, or banter with strangers while running an errand - helps a ton, and I try to infuse my day with these interactions.

When you get down to it, though, the actual writing part is a lonely affair. That's ok, because I enjoy the process (you know, mostly) but I sometimes wish I could schedule a meeting with a bunch of coworkers who could help me brainstorm ideas, or convince me to finish the damn article instead of checking Twitter for a quick sec, which will without quesion not be a quick sec. 

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But the hardest thing for me lately is that I feel badly about myself. I know. I know. I shouldn't! I know, because I have supportive people in my life who give me nothing but confidence, and I know, because I am balancing a lot of life responsibilities and it's all going well. 

Also, by this point in my life, I know that this is not a helpful way to feel. It yields nothing good. I feel it anyway. 

I feel badly that I haven't published more things in more places, that I'm not pitching more stories, that I'm not making lots of money. I feel badly that I'm not writing about more "important subjects." Again, I know it's all fine. That I'm busy, have three kids and multiple other responsibilities that can slow the process down and there's nothing wrong with that; that I am publishing pieces I'm proud of and writing about ordinary life is what I tend to do well. 

Still. 

I learned about the term "imposter syndrome" while talking with friends a few years ago. Somehow I'd never heard of it before. It's what happens when a person has trouble recognizing their accomplishments. They worry they'll be exposed as a fraud. When my friends explained the idea, I was like OH MY GOD. THAT. Yeah. I have that. 

To be clear, I don't feel this way all, or even most of the time. I have productive, happy days. I think that the reason these feelings crop up with my writing is that I'm trying to define success all by myself, and I'm not exactly sure what it is. I think that so many of us have these feelings - in creative and other professional endeavors - and in our personal lives, too. Sometimes I start worrying about whether or not I'm a good enough dog owner. Then I start worrying about how we are managing our upcoming move. Then I start wondering if I'm even an adult at all. 

When I start down this road of various anxieties, I don't always address it in the right way. The right way (and I know these actions are the "right way" because they feel good) might be to finish up a story, schedule an interview, or compose a perfect pitch, which, if not accepted, will be because the person on the receiving end is insane (is something I tell myself). The right way might be to get a few great paragraphs in on an essay I'm writing, or to do something totally non-writing related: call my mom, or exercise. 

The right way, it turns out, is not to start anxiously scrolling jobs sites or looking at questionable "freelancer needed" posts, and thinking about how to get more work in the quickest way possible. The right way to handle my feelings of insecurity is not eating candy or looking at social media and getting nervous about how successful all you guys are. It's not to text J one million stress-driven messages about whether or not I'm doing anything with my life, although, sorry buddy, I'm never going to stop doing this, you made a decision when you married me and it involved "in good times and bad." 

I don't have a tidy solution to resolve this issue. I DO find great solace in commiserating with friends, fellow writers and other parents. And in dumping on my feelings in a public forum like this one. Thanks, guys. 

I also decided to break out some elementary school math symbols, marking the first time ever I've used math in real life, and create this lesser than/greater than list to help me navigate these feelings moving forward, and maybe help some of you who trend towards this particular form of madness. Your examples are probably different than mine, but you get the picture. 

  • frantically scanning media jobs sites < writing an essay
  • working on my book > wondering if I'm too old to go to grad school and become an English professor
  • confidently telling people "I'm working on a book" > nervously telling people "I'm working on a 'larger writing project'" and then changing the subject
  • looking at social media, cursing myself for not being good at social media AND not as successful as that friend-of-a-friend who is really good at self-promoting < going for a run 
  • watching another hour of cable news < reading a chapter of a good book
  • blogging > composing a probably clever Tweet then deleting it at the last second
  • Googling people to find out how old they are and then feeling resentful of their youthful accomplishments < taking a 15-minute restorative nap
  • "fake it til you make it" > "I have no idea what I'm doing"
  • making an ambitious daily to-do list > indulging in negative feelings about my career 
  • scheduling my time effectively > waiting for inspiration
  • sending out more pitches, ideas and introductory emails < checking again to see if anyone emailed me back
  • tea > Diet Coke
  • walking the dog > all of the above    

Postcard

The other day we were chatting after finishing part of the multi-faceted drive we've undertaken for this year's Presidents' Day/February vacation: from New Haven to Chapel Hill to reunite with wonderful friends we hadn't seen in forever, then onto Charlotte for our annual Presidents' Day tradition with the crew - and learning that James K. Polk actually did some important stuff, you guys - then onto Charleston, SC, where me and the kids met my mom. J had to fly back to work this week but the kids are on break and while being in the house with them all week sounds interesting, we decided to prolong our absence from the northeast.

We're here in this glorious city til the weekend, when we'll make the drive home, dropping my mom off in MD along the way. That drive will be FINE and probably FUN (positive mantras are important!) 

I mean, car rides our tough. Take, for instance, the extreme, very negative reaction my children displayed upon being a little bit uncomfortable while getting into the overheated minivan following a lunch break near Columbia in such gorgeous, mild 75-degree weather that we got to sit outside. My children are far too used to being freezing by this point in the season and, it's ok - say it - also insane. 

Anyway, we were talking about the phrase, "worth it" when we got to our hotel in Charleston and I was deciding between valet and self-parking. I was telling the kids that the valet parking wasn't "worth it" when the garage was right there, and parking the car myself was no problem. 

Gabriel asked what "worth it" meant, and I explained that it means when having, or doing, something might be a little bit of a struggle, or cost some money, but it's really good and you don't regret it. And that not worth it was the opposite. 

So we parked our car easily in the garage and made our way down to the hotel where we - in rapid-fire fashion - found some snacks, went for a quick swim and then met my mom before heading out to dinner. 

I've only visited Charleston once when I was much younger and it's a fantastic city. It's one of those places that makes me a little stressed, to tell you the truth, because there are so many things I want to be doing every second of the day (fine, mainly food things) but when you're vacationing with young children you kind of have to go with the flow. Especially when there's a pool at your hotel that has an adjoining, sunny patio and kids mainly want to do that,  and when you explain to them that it's time to get ready and go to another restaurant, they make faces like you've killed their souls. Despite the fact that what you actually have done is brought them on a lovely vacation. 

Yesterday we went exploring in the car, which is something I'd been really excited to do. I like laid back beach towns and wanted to check out some of the nearby islands. Sometimes I think I would have been happy living barefoot on an island somewhere listening exclusively to reggae music, although to be honest, I probably I would have gotten super annoyed with a lot of things about that lifestyle eventually. Or. Sooner then eventually. Like, immediately.

We had lunch in Folly Beach, then headed over the impressive Ravenel Bridge to Sullivan's Island, where we got gelato then drove around to look at all the pretty houses. We went down a side street and discovered an artist's home studio filled with eccentric teapots and garden ornaments with cheerful little faces. Then we found a wooden bridge leading over the dunes and through all that gorgeous South Carolina foliage ("Mommy! Is this the forest?" Aidy asked) to the wide, pristine beach studded with people and lots of dogs. And then my kids RAN. They ran like they'd never seen the ocean before, splashing and digging in the sand and getting their clothes totally wet, while my mom looked for shells and I screamed after them not to run too far away and none of them listened. 

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When we got back into town, we decided to forgo real dinner plans and have snacks and drinks at our hotel, which is exactly the kind of thing that can save the evening on a trip like this, when everyone is staying up past their bedtime on a regular basis and the most relaxing thing is remaining as physically close as possible to where the beds are. 

When I woke up the next morning I realized my children were sleeping in and that if I was stealthy could make myself a cup of coffee, watch the news in bed, and catch some coverage of the utterly inspiring high school kids in Parkland and the nation's reaction to them, giving me more hope than I've felt in a long time. I  tiptoed to the Keurig that was unfortunately closer to their beds than mine, quietly poured in the water, pressed the correct buttons and then silently cursed the fact that goddamn Keurigs make A LOT OF NOISE. I was hightailing it back, hot cup in my hand, when I noticed Gabe, always our earliest riser, lying awake and wide-eyed in his bed. With intense hand gestures and mouthed instructions I told him to come join me in my room, where we made an impromptu "art studio" for him on the floor next to the open curtain, letting the morning light flood in on his notebook and pencils. 

I turned the news on and settled in, and suddenly remembered a conversation J and I had with someone a long time ago, who told us that hotel coffee pots are infamously germy. J has brought it up every time we're in a hotel that has one. I don't worry much about germs; it's not one of my chosen anxieties (which believe me, I have) but I thought about it as I looked down at my frothy cup of French roast, perfect mostly because it was available to me before my family was mobile that morning. Then I took a sip and sank into the moment, Gabriel - so often complaining - was lost in his project on the floor and the girls quiet. I wondered about what you could get, really, from exposure? Legionnaires' Disease? Avian flu? 

"Worth it," I thought, as my son and I enjoyed a memorable few minutes of calm while he drew, the newscasters proclaimed change was coming and the sun steamed in our window and on the streets of the awaiting city below.